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"O"Or maybe Dixon Just knows how to write up to the level of his artist and this work by John Van Fleet is just breathtaking. It's a perfect mixture of watercolors and Photoshop like effects. It kind of reminds me of a slick mutated version of Dave McKean's covers except not quite so photorealistic."


















































































"I'm really at a loss for words to describe the high quality of this title. Let's put it this way: If I knocked on the doors of top fantasists Clive Barker, Poppy Z. Brite, Jonathon Lethem and even my personal hero Harlan Ellison and threw a bunch of Promethea books in their faces and dared them to match the quality, I think they would sink to their knees, weeping, and humbly crawl away."









Batman: The Chalice, 4.45 stars out of 5

Batman:War on Crime 4.42 stars out of 5

Superman: Son of Superman, 4.4 out of 5 Stars.



You have several or so high priced choices for your Christmas stocking stuffer: Neil Gaimans new Dreams Graphic novel, two, count em’ two, Batman graphic novels and one Superman Elseworlds story penned by the legendary Howard Chaykin that goes for a whopping $24 bucks or so.

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Well, the reviews are in. And they're mostly good.

If you’re as fantastically wealthy as I am (I once dreamed of buying some stock, thus, I must be wealthy by default, small Matt Drudge apartment aside), then I would recommend buying all of em up, with the exception of that Neil Gaiman book, but more on that later.

The best two were the two stories featuring Batman, with the one featuring Superman coming in a close third (see above). I kind of liked the Dixon/Van Fleet Batman story the most. It was written by, and there’s no nice way to say this, notorious hack Chuck Dixon—The Bill Mantlo of the modern age--and drawn by John Van Fleet, who you might remember for those very cool Typhoid Mary covers from awhile back. To defend Dixon just a bit since I’ve opened up by maligning him, he’s capable of writing very very good stories and "The Chalice" is one of them. Past work by him that I’ve admired includes a story about biotech experiments on prisoners gone bad (I can’t remember the title but the artist there was great too: Jorge Zaffino.)

Or maybe Dixon just knows how to write up to the level of his artist and this work by John Van Fleet is just breathtaking. It’s a perfect mixture of watercolors and Photoshop like effects. It kind of reminds me of a slick mutated version of Dave McKean’s covers, except not quite so photorealistic. (That's his art below.)

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The Chalice Story could be subtitled Batman Meets the Holy Grail. As a practicing agnostic, I can’t say that the topic moved me, but hey, it’s a comic book. Dixon does a pretty nice job actually. The story features all kinds of guest shots including Ras Al Ghul, Catwoman, the Penguin and most interestingly to me, a kick ass Alfred. An Alfred that knows how to use a rifle and defend himself. No prissy brit is this. In fact, in light of the rumors surrounding Batman before Year One, it kind of makes sense. Alfred would be more of trainer and mentor.

Art is definitely the star here.

You have to see this to understand just how fantastically drawn and well conceived this book is. In its way, it’s just as groundbreaking as the previously published Veils. Van Fleet really throws out the Photoshop skills on backgrounds. I’d say at least half the backgrounds or more feature scanned in cars, castles, lights and roads. If you’re a student of these kinds of graphic composition tools you can see the effects: Van Fleet adds "noise" indiscriminately, tosses off a few "morphs" and you even suspect that he’s altering the way that "light" falls off of lamps or within the glow of the Holy Grail.

Actually, and this is something very interesting, I found myself wondering whether the whole thing wasn’t photoshopped or not, including the characters. I mean, I can take images and mess with them in such a way that they look like comic images. Give me the high end stuff like a Photoshop and Painter and I could probably pull off this comic, or something like it. You would just need models to do it. Get some real guy you know to prance around like the Penguin, then snap and shoot. The reason I suspect that is because whenever you heavily photoshop it mutes the edges on photos or pictures or whatever. Shows up mostly in faces. If you observe the faces in Chalice then you do notice that there are lines missing from their faces, which is what happens to my art whenever I run it through one too many filters. Just a curious thing that's all.

Bottom line, whether hand drawn all the way or not, I highly recommend the book. 

As for the other Batman book, "Batman: War on Crime", it was pretty good too. Written by Paul Dini, the scribe behind the wonderful Warner Brother’s series "Batman Beyond" and drawn by the now legendary Alex Ross, "Batman: War on Crime" is done in a Big Format style, or 11 by 17.

It's kind of like last year's Big Superman book and it highlights Ross' incredible style.

Needless to say, it’s beautiful to look at. The remarkable aspect about Ross’s art would have to his expressions. Amazing the range of emotions he gets out of faces: rage, fear, alarm, and in Bruce Wayne a kind of smug confidence. The most intense one was the picture of a young Bruce Wayne vowing to avenge the deaths of his parents. You can practically feel that kid’s seering eyes.

The story isn’t bad either. It’s kind of an interesting speculation touched upon in Watchmen that asks: what is it that you Masked People actually do. You come away feeling that he could do a lot more to help people as Bruce Wayne. The other aspect to the writing that’s very interesting has to do with the first person narrative by Bruce Wayne. You come away thinking that Bruce is a bit of a psychopath. There’s something dangerous about him. He’s not that far away from sounding like Rorshach from the Watchmen series, which is probably pretty close to what the truth would be. Dini does a pretty good job.

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He also does something that I've always loved about comics: It teaches you a very important lesson about the face of modern evil. How it wears suits, engages in white collar crimes against the spirit and isn't dumb enough to look right in the eyes of that 7-11 camera unmasked.

I would recommend this book as well. It's just fantastically drawn.

The Son of Superman brings us the welcome return of Howard Chaykin to comics. It might also be called Kingdom Come: The Chaykin Elseworld Version. Of the graphic novel stories I've read, this one is a truly dense read: it features a terrorist group called the Supermen, the disappearance of Superman, older versions of your favorite characters--one of which is an astonishingly aged silverhaired Batman--and an updated, orange ponytailed version Lex Luthor.

It's a terribly complicated story and for those of us familiar with American Flagg that's probably no big surprise. It's gorgeously drawn by Promothea artist J. H. Williams. It's beautiful to look at it and to read. The story, as hard as it is to explain, has to do with the disappearance of Superman and the subsequent changes to the world--most of them not so good. It features the rise of Lex Luthor, a kind of vast discussion of the role of terrorism in world change, and a story concluding fight that only fanboys could love featuring big duke outs between Superman vs. the Martian Manhunter, Batman vs. the young Flash, and Wonder Woman vs. Aquaman. Makes you wanna never grow up.

Chaykin didn't write this alone. He had help from a prominent Hollywood screenwriter. It changed the weight of the story somewhat. I'm guessing that the parts of the script that were kind of sentimental and aimed for a particular demographic came from David Tischman..

Overall, an entertaining Postmodern comic read, replete with fight scenes. I recommend it. The only thing I don't recommend is the price. It goes for a very uncool $25 bucks or so. You shouldn't have to be a Microsoft shareholder to buy this thing. That's called the "screwing" the younger, less well off fan. Shame on you. And during the holidays too.

Where is your sense of charity DC?


Promethea 4 and 5, 4.7 out of 5 Stars

Neil Gaiman's "The Sandman: The Dream Hunters", 3.6 out of 5 Stars

And now for something completely different: Neil Gaiman's "The Sandman: The Dream Hunters"

I have a horrible confession to make: Of the two great Brit writers that have conquered our shores, Gaiman and Alan Moore, I am clearly in the Moore camp. I think Moore might be the most talented to ever enter the comics field. That's unfortunate for Gaiman. It's like being a Physics theoretician at about the time Einstein was rising on the scene.

His horrifically priced graphic novel "The Dream Hunters" isn't bad. It's professionally done. In the interviews I've read he was inspired to write it because of the Japanese myth he's been immersed in for the last year or so as he wrote the Disney screenplay for Princess Mononoko.

For the record, I strongly recommend the film. However, you could probably pass on the book. Even though both of these guys are Brits, Moore and Gaiman have different approaches. Moore is intellectual, you sense that Gaiman is intuitive and insular. Moore is political, where you don't ever get the sense that politics plays a part in any of the worlds that Gaiman writes about.

Personally, I'm an intellectual (self-defined) who is interested in politics.

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Guess which writer I like the most?

Again, it's not that Dream Hunters is bad. It features wonderful artwork by Yoshitaka Amano and it's readable. It's just not my thing. If you're into Gaiman, you worship all of his Sandman stories for instance, then, hey, go knock yourself out silly.

If, however, you're looking for something truly transcendent, special and superior, then go pick up Promethea 1 through 5.

It works on so many levels. I have to write something about the entirety of the ABC line. These are truly special comics.

But I truly think that Promethea is the best of the lot. It's just wondrous. One of the attempted knocks at Watchman by Gary Groth or whoever it was at the journal is that it was complicated, but not complex. Well, apparently Moore heard the arguments and Promethea is both complicated and complex.

I'm really at a loss for words to describe the high quality of this title. Let's put it this way: If I knocked on the doors of top fantasists Clive Barker, Poppy Z. Brite, Jonathon Lethem and even my personal hero Harlan Ellison and threw a bunch of Promethea books in their faces and dared them to match the quality, I think they would sink to their knees, weeping, and humbly crawl away. Maybe Gene Wolfe would be up to it or the late Borges. Maybe.

Not only is it interesting in that it touches upon the idea of myth, it's interesting in that it creates its own world of myth. In issues 4 and 5 you learn more about the world of Promethea, who like Peter Pan seems to exist only if you believe in her. Issue four features Charles Vess doing a piece set in 1779, just a wonderful innovation--using different artists and different styles in the middle of books--that Moore has used twice now in his ABC books, the first time was in a Tom Strong issue where the middle of the book looked like an old EC book.

The one thing that you learn about the Prometheas is that different people get to play her part throughout history and that she's definitely vulnerable. All the Prometheas die, or at least have died and perhaps will die. The plot is so complex that you find yourself asking more questions that are answered but it sure is a great ride.

And oh the cool details. It's a world full of Les Miserable posters, Achocalypse Pops, floating aircabs, Café Khaddaffi, a website called "TEXTure", a Painted Doll (Moore's version of the Joker) tshirt that says "1 million killed", flying bees that metamorph into flying tigers then running tigers, bats with fabrics for wings, and superheroes whose tears turn into blue five point stars. Wondrous, wondrous stuff. That one man is doing this book, Tom Strong, Top Ten and other stuff constitutes a conspiracy of quality. How can such a high quality be maintained with such quantity? Truly, its something unreal, something out of the Immateria itself.

Bottom Line: Promethea is probably the best comic put out this year. Of course you should buy it.